1/169: In the shadow of a Flip

This past weekend, 20-year head coach Flip Saunders died from cancer. That it happened the weekend before the NBA season opened, in the lull between pre-season and the much-anticipated (at least in my household), Chicago-Cleveland (or, for the nerds, the Atlanta-Detroit) matchup is not insignificant.

An outpouring of support followed.

John Wall said something nice:

KG posted a pretty cool homage:

http://instagram.com/p/9UfnWZgx8w/?taken-by=officialkevingarnett

Kevin Love was commemorative:

Public grief has always made me uncomfortable. There’s a performance aspect that should never be factored into the calculus of personal loss. I’m supposed to say people grieve in their own way, but fuck that. Coming to terms with grief–true grief–requires, at the very least, a moment of quietness, a singular silence in which to re-frame the rest of your life. Acting out the simulacrum of grief cheapens the loss and relationships of loved ones, and as the scale of this charade grows, the memories of those lost soften to the point that they become flat characters defined by singular adjectives and traits.

  • “He was a generous guy.”
  • “Her smile always brightened my day.”
  • “He had such a head for the game.”

I grieve for the grieving.

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Flip’s death comes on the heals of other prominent NBA figures Darryl Dawkins, Moses Malone, Anthony mason, Jack Haley (shout out to my least hated Billionare marky-mark). Perhaps catalyzed by Flip, this NBA season amidst a sea of real, and overblown, reflection. Suddenly, this game that screams the pinnacle of schoolyard achievement is framed against real life, real emotion, real achievement, and real loss.

Flip coached some shitty teams. The overblown declines He oversaw, probably in the long run, get outbalanced by the underrated teams, but in the public eye–the same sphere in which his visage is now softened in memorial–he was absolutely roasted. It’s important to forget that. Sports is so ephemeral, and gut reactions, such a natural biproduct.

For some reason, I want to embrace this uncommon feeling of gravitas at the start of the NBA season. Drown out the shininess and bright lights, for a minute, to swim in a Mad Men-like haze of bourbon and cigarette smoke. Wallow in the inevitable nothingness of it all. Then crawl out from the bottom of the tumbler, dry off, and ball.

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3 fairly improbably predictions after day 1:

  • Detroit Pistons are going to make the playoffs. Apparently Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a beast. People have been saying he’s going to be good, and to date, he has shown very little to support that. A 21p on 4/7 3pt shooting is a good start to convincing the world otherwise. More importantly, Reggie Jackson looks like the forreal starting point guard he wants to prove he is. A +26 outing on 15p, 8r and 5a are all-star type numbers, and I’m betting them bearing out over the course of the season. Brandon Jennings at home:

  • The Bulls and Cavs will still be the best teams in the East. Sorry, Joey. The Bulls won a game on defense. Apparently, they haven’t forgotten how to play on that end of the court and the offense looked more competent for stretches than the accumulation of the last 3 years.
  • Steph Curry will be MVP again. 24p in the first quarter

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The five most interesting teams of this season:

Miami Heat

Goran Dragic and Chris Bosh are playing together for the first time ever. The starting 5–Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Bosh, and Hassan Whiteside– May be as good and is certainly as lauded as any. Whiteside’s development will dictate how far they get into the playoffs (I.e. Whether or not they beat the Cavs). The offense will come along with Dragic at the helm over the course of the whole season; he’ll push the pace, which alone will raisethem out of the bottom 3 in points scored. Coach Eric Spoelstra will need to point a lion’s share of his focus on thedefense, however. The fluorescent Heat were dead last in rebounding and allowed more shots up than any other team in the league; only 5 teams allowed more points last season.

The bench: led by Gerald Green and Amare Staudemire, will make for good television as they may set records for both points scored and points allowed by a second unit ever. Beyond the scorers, the bench has an odd mix of really complimentary players, and may shock the world with how well they blend together. Mario Chalmers and Captain of the all-NBA man bun team (#androgeny) Josh McBob: distributor, stretch shooter. Green & Stoudemire: scorers, straw man defenders. Chris Anderson & Juwon Howard 2.0: rebounders, defenders, dark-alley grimacers. Justice Winslow & Tyler Johnson, schooled by a supremely talented pair of wings in Wade and Deng, could turn into real NBA pros defending on one end, euro-stepping into upper-mid-level contracts until 2025.

Houston Rockets

Kinda copping out… They were a top 3 seed in one of the Bestern Conferences in NBA history last year and they didn’t lose anyone. Their marquee addition Ty Lawson, however, coupled with the best driving Beard in the NBA will make Twister games of opposing defenses. Harden-Lawson are a low-key best back court in the NBA (and there’s a ton of competition). Instead of the dribble at the top of the arc, rumble to the foul line parade that’s plagued Houston games for the past three years, I keep imagining Lawson driving and kicking to Harden who drives and kicks to Trevor Ariza who drives and kicks to Terrence Jones who drives and kicks to Lawson who drives and kicks ad nauseum as if enacting a real life gif. Their transition game will be wicked. I mean little pin ball Lawson main lined jet fuel into several seasons of otherwise unspectacular Nuggets squads sprinting into consecutive 50-win seasons.

The bench: Two years ago, this team’s bench–headlined by Francisco Garcia and Patremy Beverlin–was much maligned. They over-corrected with last year’s Josh j.Smoov Smith (which I actually loved). And despite losing Smith, still boast a really good bench. Other than Clint Capela and the two dudes who’ve never logged a real NBA minute (Sam Dekker & Montrezl Harrell), everybody else is a legit NBA pro sans question marks, which somehow is a marvel in this, the most talented iteration of the association.

Power Forward is their only position of ambiguity. Though not thin on talent, the voltron 4 of Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, and the pair of rookies is packed with potential, but has been for a couple years now. Who’ll emerge as the guy to finish games will be an interesting sub-subplot to the season that will never come to fruition. Especially with the spread-the-floor three-point-shooting Rockets content with letting Ariza finish games as stretch mark 3 and a half.

Minnesota Timberwolves

These guys will be the centerpiece of the most entertaining irrelevant games on League Pass. I am more jacked for Wolves-Bucks, Wolves-Magic, Wolves-Celtics, Wolves-Pistons, Wolves-Nuggets, Wolves-Sixers than Spurs-Warriors. This is exhibit a in my NBA masochism.

In transition, they’ll be straight up scary. More half of their rotation has helicopter blades for arms: I don’t know for sure if that means theyre defensive, offensive or poop on some rims-focused. What a design, Flip.

*pours one out*

The starters: Ricky Rubio, Zach Lavine, Andrew Wiggins, Kevin Garnett, Karl Anthony-Towns. Lavine is the big question mark. Everyone knows about his athleticism and every opposing coach knows to exploit his atrocious defense. If he can develop into a halfway decent defender though, continue to show that spectacular off-the-bounce-game, and more consistently hit at range, Lavine will easily make up for the above-average-if-not-spectacular development of Wigz and KAT. To that point, the latter two are rare talents, whose skills are in some ways anchored in different eras. If just one of them, or both alternatingingly go on extended flashes that scrape the ceilings of the players they could be, then watch out Western Conference. They’ll at least disrupt seeding, if not make a legit run at the 8-spot.

The bench: a bunch o’ yungbloods peppered with Andre Miller, PhD and Tayshaun Prince, AARP.

As young as they are, they’ll obviously lack discipline, which is why this team more than any other is at the top of my Mr.-Commissioner-Silver-sir-please-can-we-trade-coaches-like-chattel-or-players List. Can you imagine if Rick Carlisle or Mike Budenholzer or venerable Pop or Doc had this squad to play with? I’ll be interested to see if Sam Mitchell has the coaching chops to design a high flying offense; he did steer a 2006 Raptors squad to a 47-win, borderline top-10 offense first round playoff bounce. That finish would exceed all expectations in 2015 Minnesota.

At the minimum, theyll fly on and above the court making them fun to watch, and now, they’ll have extra motivation. This season for the Twolves will be unlikeevery other team. Here’s to hoping they can keep the core together and developing. If so, Their NBA irrelevance (for the casual fan) will not be for much longer.

Milwaukee Bucks

The starters: Michael Carter-Williams, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokuonmpo, Jabari Parker, Greg Monroe.

Pabari Jarker is back y’all! Its pretty easy to forget that he had a really good rookie year despite playing only 25 games–15p and 6.7r on 49% (per 36). He’s got pro size and skill set and will only develop into a better scorer.

The Bucks added Moose, The New Kidd on the Block, Greg Monroe (endless fodder here, anticipating at least 4 salt lick puns this season). A proven commodity in both buckets and boards.

Khris Middleton is a legit NBA pro, which a bit weird to write out loud. Not only did he exceed expectations on the offensive end at 16p on 47%, but he got after it on D with 5.3r and 1.8s (per 36).

MCW leaves a little to be desired, but the promise of point-center-savant 20-year old Greek Freak more than makes up for it. G’s per 36s are shockingly similar to Pabari and MiddleT, which brings up a great point Jalen Rose made in the Jalen and Jacoby podcast that I’m just straight stealing insights from: Head Coach Jason Kidd tallied the third most triple doubles and highest spilled beverages on the court rate, and now he’s opted a team that’s effectively comprised of long, thin Swiss Army knives. Everyone scores but isn’t a scorer. Everyone defends but isn’t a defender. It’ll be curious to see what this troupe of generalists can pull off.

A quick note on the bench: it’s been dramatically overhauled, and the Bucks are surprisingly deep with Miles Plumlee (who I think was more responsible for the Phoenix Suns sudden run at the playoffs two years ago, but more on that in a later post pontificating on Big Plum taking over Milwaukee), John Henson, Jerryd Bayless, OJ Mayo, Grieves Vasquez, Chris Copeland.

Those ain’t packin peanuts y’all…

Which is why you should watch out for J. Kidd trying to swing a big deal for a big name. JOE JOHNSON ALERT!

Seriously, you could spread Mayo’s stupid contract, not really have a need for Middleton and throw in a Rashad Vaugh-type for money reasons in exchange for a go to wing scorer that doesn’t give that much back on defense. I just convinced myself of this trade. It’s happening.